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In "A Lullaby", William H. Auden argues that love between two individuals is a burden that, once we are divested of, we find a new and purer level peace and self-satisfaction in our solitude. Auden suggests that sensual love, or rather lust for others, is an irrational torment. Although Auden's argument is tinged with an underlying melancholy and sense of resentment that subverts his message, the poem continually and adamantly insists that love, outside of self love, is an overrated commodity.The opening stanza of "A Lullaby" serves as an extended metaphor for the peace, the respite from lust, that comes with old age. Here, the trials and tribulations of the day have ended, giving way to the peaceful evening. Auden councils the reader to "Devoid your portrait / of its vexations and rest" (4-5). Now that the "daily round is done with" (6), one has "license to lie, / naked, curled like a shrimplet, / jacent in bed" (11-13) and enjoy some well-earned solitude. This notion of desirable solitude is the core of the poem's commentary on love. One earns the right to enjoy this sensual and singular serenity only after completing the tiresome chores of the day; these monotonous, unrewarding obligations of daily life are, in the following stanza, shown to be parallels for the libido driven struggles of youth.
The second stanza begins by presenting a new take on the story of Narcissus. In Auden's eyes, Narcissus is no longer the personification of vanity, but rather a character whose fervent self-love is motivated by wisdom and experience. Auden argues that "The old Greeks got it all wrong: / Narcissus is an oldie, / tamed by time" (16-18). Most importantly, Auden argues that Narcissus's age and experience has allowed him to be "released at last / from lust for other bodies" (18-19). Thus, age is a liberator, freeing one from the unpleasant burden of young, lustful cravings. The fact that Auden chose to illustrate this point with Narcissus suggests that the love from others one mistakenly desires in youth, should be replaced with the self-love of Narcissus, a character that consistently admired his own form.
This freedom, granted by age, advocated in "A Lullaby" is, in a sense, liberation from the need of others. When one attains this wisdom of Narcissus, one no longer needs other beings for fulfillment. Before Narcissus gained this heightened level of understanding he too was a slave to physical concerns and physical loves. This almost masturbatory level of self-adoration is, in the view of the poem, the truest form of mature love. Here Auden suggests that the reader, like Narcissus, may reach a level in which you find yourself "imagining that you are / sinless and all-sufficient, / snug in the den of yourself" (26-28). Yet, the word "imagining" in the previous quote seems to suggest that this idea of mutual love as a superfluous burden, is a self-created illusion rather than an intrinsic truth.
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